I’ve Kept You Alive

Dad. You thrive in my dreams. You fly on a magic carpet

of colors. I wish to join you, but you don’t involve me.


I see you falling from the sky. You look like a ship,

large, mechanical, and terrifying. When you land at my feet,

you transform into an organism, a salamander.

Even so, you look more threatening than the ship.


As if you’re hearing my thoughts, you decide to become

a lungfish with a large head. I stroke your head, your eyes

so beautiful. You’ve evolved in your choice of breathing

organs and sound, equipped with extra lungs. How perfect!

No more fluid build-up, oxygen therapy, or the pills you hated.


We laugh about how we both love eating fish. We walk to my

house which is big and made of glass like a greenhouse of plants.

You do not use the door but squeeze in-between the wall and floor,

then crawl into the living room. There’s no telling your limits.


I step outside to call an aquatic company that owns a swimming pool

and specializes in creatures like you. I want to buy you a tank. I fidget

with my phone and desperately press numbers which get erased

the moment they reach three. How to dial a full ten? Eventually,

I return to the room and find that you’ve died in a blue bucket

after chopping yourself to pieces. My sister appears and wants

to cook you. I am distressed. I tell her you’re not a fish! A slice

of salmon materializes and my sister says, Some fish are red,

others whitish-brown—which is the color you are now. Like tilapia,

she adds. I don’t see her point, although I feel less troubled.


The Man Who Changed His Name Twice

Is now old. He lives in the country

plowing land from sunrise to twilight.


He grows carrots, cucumbers and

cauliflower, but he never eats them.


He tends an orchard—mixed fruit trees

and grapes. He makes wine he drinks.


Smells of rancid olives, bitter,

and the color of bruised blackberries.


Every time he squeezes grapes

he cries, remembering the lives


he took, and those he’d promised

to serve and protect but left behind.


He buries the pain in the soil

while tending the veggies.


Can’t stand chopping,

Can’t stop breaking.


Are You Now Afraid for Your Color?

Awake, my people, awake

To love, to burning love

Feel once more the heat of your desire,

Sensuous needs you so callously crucify.


The world does not need your decorum,

your modicum, your sacrifice

The world needs your rage,

your radiant joy, your outrageous gladness.


Rake the logs, rouse the embers

Breathe the fire and consume the darkness

Ignite the bones that have forgotten the power

of touch. Dispel the blanket of sepia gloom.


Bring back pleasure, delicious flavor

And the music that’s your heartbeat.

Aching joy, astounding joy,

The sound of your laughter.


Mildred Kiconco Barya is a writer from Uganda now living in North Carolina. Her publications include three poetry books, as well as prose, hybrids, and poems published in Shenandoah, Joyland, The Cincinnati Review, Tin House, and elsewhere. Her fourth full-length poetry collection, The Animals of My Earth School, is forthcoming from Terrapin Books, 2023. She’s working on a collection of creative nonfiction essays, Being Here in This Body. Barya is a board member of African Writers Trust and coordinates the Poetrio Reading events at Malaprop’s Independent Bookstore/Café. She teaches creative writing and literature at UNC-Asheville. She blogs at MildredBarya.com . She is on twitter at MidiBarya and on instagram at MidiBarya.

1 Comment

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s